Nailing it: The beauty industry’s new nail obsession

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By Caroline Foster


Recently nail polish and nail designs have emerged as popular low-cost ways to update an outfit.  Now nails are a canvas, and you can decorate and style them to accessorize any look.

But why is this nail obsession happening now?

One explanation for this craze could be what is referred to as the “lipstick” index: As the economy suffers, trendsetters are forced to find less-expensive ways to stay in style.

According to Southern Methodist University Assistant Professor of Marketing Priyali Rajagopal, the term lipstick index originated when economists noticed that lipstick sales appeared to rise as the economy declined.

But this theory may ring true no matter what the beauty item.

“I certainly think the idea of a lipstick index can be applied to any beauty product that is relatively low in price,” says Rajagopal.

Because nail polish is inexpensive, women see the product as an affordable treat.

“Many experts suggest that women tend to look for small indulgences during poor economic times,” says Rajagopal. “Spending $2 to $8 on a nail polish can seem very attractive.”

Retailers and fashion publications have caught on to the trend. Online at Harper’s Bazaar covers  nail trends in detail. Writer Kri Molvar breaks down the three biggest trends in nails from the Spring 2012 shows: patterns, neutrals and color.

Nails are also a hot topic in the beauty section of  In a March post titled Color Theory: Four Designers Match Nail Polish to their Jewelry,” Catherine Piercy writes about the trend of matching nail color to rings and bracelets, or “the punctuative power of the right manicure and its ability to instantly accessorize, and sometime’s change, the way a woman wants to dress.”

In the April 2012 magazine issue of Vogue, a one-page story is dedicated to Prabal Gurung’s collaboration with Sally Hansen.

Gurung isn’t the only designer to add nail adornments to his  repertoire, however.

Thakoon Panichgul, the designer behind the Thakoon label, has created a limited-edition collection of nail lacquer for beauty brand Nars.

The colors all originated from the boldly patterned designs in his spring runway show.  From bright yellow to a cool blue, the shades are sure to fly off the shelves once they become available on Nars’ website on May 1.

Just like any other trend, certain nail styles go in and out of fashion.

Right now Sally Hansen’s nail applications are making waves in the beauty market. Praised for their no-mess application and staying power, they offer the look of nail designs for a fraction of the in-salon price.

SMU senior psychology and anthropology major Elizabeth Ball was drawn to the intricate designs on the adhesives.

“I decided to try the stick-on nails because they came in fun patterns that I knew I did not have the ability to create,” says Ball.

These designs are exactly what Gurung’s collection for Sally Hansen is about.

The adhesives will feature printed nail designs — think abstract purple floral patterns created exclusively for his runway shows that match the patterns on the clothes.

The limited edition designs will also coordinate with three Sally Hansen polish colors so you can match your manicure and pedicure.

Another trend on the nail front is non -toxic nail polish.

Butter London nail lacquers don’t contain formaldehyde, toluene, DBP or parabens that most other nail polishes are made with.

Organic Beauty Talk  Founder and Editor–In-Chief Brandie Gilliam is such a fan of the polishes she gave them a 2011 Organic Beauty Talk Award.

For Gilliam, it’s easy to see why so many people are buying butter London. “They’re pretty and they work.  And they’re non-toxic,” she says.

The focus on nail trends makes it easy for girls on any budget to accessorize an outfit with just a few brushstrokes.  The do-it-yourself factor allows them to create or change a look without breaking the bank.

Ball emphasizes the upside of being your own manicurist. “It’s cheaper than going to the salon for a manicure,” she says.

A low-cost statement-making accessory?  So even if the economy is in the doldrums, at least we can have great-looking nails.

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